Saturday, May 14, 2011


Though mid twentieth century movies tried to romanticize America's civil war - "Gone With The Wind" (1939) / "Shenandoah" (1965) to name a couple of the more prominent - It comes as little surprise that events this year marking the sesquicentennial of the war between the States have been somewhat muted. So far just a few solemn events in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia have noted the passing of the 150 years since the United States was ripped apart. It seems Americans are somewhat reluctant to scratch open the scabs over scars which in many respects remain fresh.

Not so here in Canada where before the defeat of the Government in April, Heritage Canada had earmarked a $100-Million budget for next year's events and celebrations marking the bi-centennial of the War of 1812. Fresh from this month's majority re-election in Parliament the Conservatives have indicated they will re-introduce the budget before the end of May; which this time will pass likely unamended.

A recent survey of American citizens commissioned by the Association For Canadian Studies(ACS); a group based in Montreal; has been measuring cross-border attitudes ahead of the government's kick-start of the War of 1812 celebrations. A spokesman for the Association claims the bicentennial will provide a good opportunity to explore the important "interconnectedness" of our histories and how we've evolved together.

It's clear that the Federal Government through Heritage Canada and many various other historical and parks organizations it will fund, wants to attract as many American tourists as possible north of the border to join in this momentous event 200 years in the making. War remembrances tend to emphasize patriotic fervour. Our American cousins and business partners, still smarting from the "draw" of the Korean Conflict; the loss of Vietnam; and their interminable War on Terror in all of its manifestations (Iraq; Afghanistan; Libya; Yemen - take your pick) may be dazed, shocked and confused to learn they LOST the War of 1812.

That's not just a result of America's general decline in educational standards; but it is also because of the nature of the self-centered cultural influence of the mass media of the United States in all of its own manifestations from news organizations; its print and new media; and of course the film and television industry.

Ironically Heritage Canada's plan to shovel-out as much as $100-Million tax dollars to springboard a renewed dialogue with the United-States using the War of 1812 as catalyst arrives in the very breath that our own cultural industry is threatened with potentially massive funding cuts.

Under the pretext of reining-in it's $50-Billion annual deficit Mr. Harper's government indicated last fall that it intends to institute a strategic review of spending in all departments, including the CBC, Telefilm Canada and the Canada Council. And the Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, reiterated just this week that much of his deficit will be reduced by identifying departmental efficiencies. Before this month's Federal Election tensions between the industry's regulator; the CRTC; were already at a fever pitch all time high over "new media" regulations and funding, and the licensing of the right-wing "Sun News" channel to name just a couple of troubling issues.

Despite appearances singing Beatles' tunes during the most recent election campaign; Prime Minister Harper and for the most part the opposition politicians as well; steered clear of Canada's "cultural debate" in sharp contrast with Harper's infamous outburst of the 2008 campaign that ordinary people didn't care much about the rich artists who attend ritzy galas.

If in the upcoming "new" budget deliberations, it's a toss-up between spending $100-Million to promote the defeat of our American friends in the War of 1812 or saving Canada's beloved diverse culture and its supporting industry - I vote for the latter. The Federal Government can take solace in letting our iconic coffee giant "Tim Hortons" do the talking for us down south of the border. At no cost to the Canadian government our "Timmy's" has just recently re-branded itself in the United States as "Tim Hortons Cafe and Bake Shop(s)" and sales in the first 3 months of the year shot-up five percent. That is clearly a culture understood in America.

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